Here are responses to the most common questions we receive about Building a Second Brain, our online course on transforming your productivity and creative output using digital note-taking.
What is this course about?
Building a Second Brain is about organizing your ideas, not as an end in itself, but to support creative work and give you the confidence to tackle more ambitious, more fulfilling projects. It is about fully harnessing the potential of your ideas, so they stick and translate to meaningful results in your life. Instead of being “interesting insights” that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Instead of talking about abstract concepts, I’ll show you a practical approach you can implement step by step, while also explaining the underlying principles that can be applied across your digital life.
The promise of the course is that “You will learn how to capture, organize, and share your ideas and insights using digital notes, with a systematic approach that you trust to support creative breakthroughs in your work.”
Are there any prerequisites for this course?
Although there are no official prerequisites, I expect you to be reasonably fluent in using computers, and for the examples, you’ll need to know the basics of how to use Evernote.
I recommend Evernote’s free Quick Start guide for a brief introduction to the program.
I’m not an entrepreneur, freelancer, or executive – is this course right for me?
The silos that once separated these categories are breaking down. We are all a startup of one now.
Even the largest companies are looking for “intrapreneurs” who can lead “internal startups.” Even the most secure employees need to develop a body of knowledge to leverage for their next career move. And it never hurts to have a side project or extra income stream in these uncertain times.
In Building a Second Brain, we’ll be diving into how to create a trusted system for collecting and organizing all the best ideas, insights, facts, quotes, and research you encounter. A system that has been tested by some of the top productivity experts in the world, and adopted by more than a thousand students. A system that just works.
I can’t think of a better way to jumpstart an early-stage career than starting a collection of notes that compounds and grows over time. Just like financial investing, investing in your knowledge benefits tremendously from starting early.
Not to mention, you’ll be learning alongside standout performers in the world’s most ambitious and interesting fields.
I’m an experienced researcher, businessperson, or content creator – do I have anything to learn here?
I’ve found that people who “manage ideas” for a living have some of the most profound breakthroughs from taking this course. Partly because we are shedding light on assumptions and habits that they have never thought to question. Equally important, they often find helping fellow learners understand idea management principles gives clarity to their own work. That’s why social learning works!
Idea management is a very new field, and there is no other program out there that addresses it as comprehensively as this one. My life’s work has been tracing the deepest underlying principles all the way to the most practical applications, and training people in how to master both ends of the spectrum.
What kinds of results do people achieve after learning this system?
Graduates of this course walk away with a wide variety of benefits, from reduced stress and indecision to dramatically higher levels of creative confidence and reaching goals they never thought possible. But I’ll let them speak for themselves.
How is this different than GTD (Getting Things Done)?
GTD is a productivity method created by David Allen, and popularized in his best-selling book Getting Things Done. In my first online course, Get Stuff Done Like a Boss, I teach students how to implement this method, and it’s been a big influence on me and my work.
Building a Second Brain builds on and extends the GTD philosophy to encompass not just tasks, but all the other kinds of digital information you have to keep track of: the notes, files, bookmarks, photos, quotes, and research you use to do your work. It follows the same principle – keeping everything in a trusted place outside your head – but applied to a much broader range of material.
Although the courses are related, it isn’t necessary to take Get Stuff Done Like a Boss before Building a Second Brain. They address different subjects and each stands on its own.
Here’s a more comprehensive article that explains how the two methods are related: Getting Things Done + Personal Knowledge Management.
Why haven’t I heard of this before?
We get this one a lot.
One reason is that we’re relatively new – the first cohort launched in January 2017, and we recently reached the 1,000 student milestone. We’re working hard to get the word out, but just getting started!
The second reason is that, until recently, the practice of idea management was limited to academics and researchers. Fields such as Personal Information Management (PIM), Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), and Digital Asset Management (DAM) have been around for decades, but haven’t really been accessible to the rest of us.
In creating this course, I read countless academic papers and research reports, so you don’t have to. I borrowed the very best techniques and principles from these disciplines, and combined them into an integrated system designed for knowledge workers to use day to day.
Which kind of software do you recommend?
Although the examples I show are for the popular digital notes app Evernote, all of the methods I teach can be implemented in virtually any software. Past students have built their Second Brain in such apps as Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, Bear, Notion, Milanote, Arena, Emacs, and many others.
Don’t worry! I have recommendations for which of these is right for you, plus a dedicated thread for each of them where current users talk about their experience and answer questions.
I do have one strong recommendation: that you stick to the category of “digital notes” apps for your Second Brain. For more details on why, read my article The Case for Digital Notes.
What if I don’t use Evernote?
None of the foundational concepts I’ll be teaching you depend on Evernote or any other particular program to work. I’ll be using Evernote as an example, to be able to show you a real working system, instead of speaking in generalities.
But please note that all the examples, case studies, and templates are exclusively in Evernote, and we cannot officially support any other program you decide to use.
How much time will this take?
The course is designed to take 30 days from beginning to end. Although you’ll have access to the complete curriculum from Day 1, and could thus take it much faster, it’s hard to integrate new habits that quickly. On the other hand, taking more than 30 days generally means you’re getting bogged down with small details.
The goal is not to implement everything perfectly from the outset, but to have a basic working system that you can start using in your day to day work. This is one reason you have lifetime access to the curriculum: every time you revisit it, you’ll learn something different.
Each of the 8 lecture videos will take approximately 15–25 minutes to watch, and the walkthrough videos another 1-2 hours in total. The time required for the exercises, discussions in the online forum, and supplementary material depend on how fast you move and how deep you want to go. But I would set aside about 8 hours total, or about 2 hours per week. So a conservative estimate is about 14 hours total for the course, or 3.5 hours per week for 4 weeks.
The amount of time needed for implementation varies a lot, but it is something that should be done initially during the course, and then improved slowly over time and in the flow of daily work.
Do I have time for this?
The better question is, “Do you have time NOT to learn it?”
The average person consumes 34 gigabytes worth of data every day, the equivalent of 174 newspapers. We are spending more than 11 hours per day – or two-thirds of our waking hours – consuming media in some form.
Can you afford to spend so much of your time consuming information without preserving it in any form?
And the truth is, we have plenty of time if we use it intentionally.
The average Instagram user spends nearly 150 hours per year posting and scrolling through pictures – the equivalent of three full work weeks. The average knowledge worker spends 30% of their workday – equivalent to one and a half out of five days per workweek – searching for information.
In this course, I’ll teach you how to redirect that wasted time into more productive, more fulfilling, and more strategic uses. You’ll see that you’re already doing 99% of the work reading, consuming, and reflecting on new ideas. All you need to do is change how you spend the last 1% of your time to curate and collect only the very best of them.
How many blog posts and podcasts do you consume each week? How much have you learned and not put into action? How much time do you waste searching for notes or quotes? Let’s turn that wasted energy into knowledge capital.
It took me more than 10 years of painstaking trial and error to develop this methodology, and another several years to translate it into an effective training program. In this course I distill the very best of what I’ve discovered into a convenient, 4-week program so you can learn it in a tiny fraction of the time.
What is the difference between the Standard and Premium editions?
As of version 9, the two editions of Building a Second Brain include the following:
Standard Edition ($799):
- Comprehensive self-paced curriculum
- Lifetime access to 4-week live cohorts taught by Tiago Forte 3-4 times per year
- 8 units of pre-recorded videos
- 10 step-by-step walkthrough videos
- Student-only online discussion forum
- Downloadable PDF slides
- 4 in-depth case studies
Premium Edition ($1,199):
Everything included in the Standard Edition, plus:
- 6 advanced tutorials
- 8 exclusive expert interviews
- 16 pre-formatted note templates
- 3-month subscription to the Praxis blog
Peer discussion and instructor support happens through the online discussion forum and the Slack channel. The live cohorts include real-time coaching via Zoom calls, and purchasers of both editions are free to join any future cohort. Both editions include lifetime access to future versions of that edition, which you will be automatically notified about via email.
You can upgrade from the Standard Edition to the Premium Edition at a later time for $299.
Why is it so expensive?
Building a Second Brain isn’t like other online courses.
It isn’t a one-time project I completed years ago, that lingers online like a half-dead zombie, pouncing on unsuspecting visitors. It is my life’s work, not just up until the present moment, but for the foreseeable future.
About once per quarter I publish a new batch of improvements and updates. You can see the full history of these updates here. These aren’t just “fixes” to bring the content up to date. I regularly launch whole new modules, case studies, tutorials, interviews, and other resources, all of which are available to all past and future students.
I think of Building a Second Brain as a community of lifetime learners that I support on an ongoing basis. And you get permanent access to that community for a one-time payment!
The pricing allows me to continue to dedicate the effort required to refine and improve the course. It also ensures that everyone who enrolls is fully committed to doing the work required to benefit fully from it.
I charge between $15,000–$25,000 to deliver this material live in corporate trainings. Using online platforms, I’m able to reach a far more diverse audience at a fraction of the price.
How is Building a Second Brain different from other methodologies?
Here are some of the main differences between the Building a Second Brain methodology and other approaches to productivity, organizing, and learning.
- This isn’t yet another method for “how to be successful”
It is the method that prepares you to benefit from all those other methods – how to gather and organize the knowledge you acquire from all the other sources you have access to.
- This isn’t a monolithic system that you have to implement perfectly to get any value from
Applying even one or two of the methods taught can revolutionize your productivity and learning.
- This method doesn’t assume you have any particular pre-existing knowledge or skills
It only requires you to have the most basic familiarity with how to use a computer.
- This method doesn’t force you into a one-size-fits-all box
It equips you to develop a system adapted to your specific needs and goals.
- This method isn’t abstract and theoretical
It was developed in the trenches of running a real business, not in a laboratory or classroom, which means it is highly practical and useful in the real world.
- This method isn’t a random collection of disconnected “tips and tricks”
It is a holistic system that works in an integrated way to capture, organize, and share your ideas.
- This method doesn’t exhort you to work even harder and do even more
It teaches you how to do more with less, how to use the sources of leverage available to you, and to offload as much effort as possible to computers.
- This method isn’t about optimizing or perfecting yourself
It’s about optimizing an external system so you are free to imagine, create, and simply relax.
- This method doesn’t condemn technology and the Internet
It teaches a balanced approach to using these amazing tools to enhance creative work, without getting distracted.
- This method isn’t about forcing you to work in a certain way
It’s about providing a support system so you can create value no matter how you decide to work, and a safety net so you have the confidence that no detail is falling through the cracks.
The Building a Second Brain method combines practical technology skills with the bigger picture of how and why idea management can transform your career, your business, and your life. This course focuses on practical skills, but doesn’t stop there: it also cultivates the deeper mindset and the paradigm shifts necessary to thrive in an age of information abundance.
Can the methods you teach be implemented piecemeal, or do they all build on each other?
The honest answer is: both.
Each and every technique I teach in the course is valuable and effective on its own. Many students report that adopting just one of them completely revolutionizes their ability to manage their digital life. You can implement them in any order, a little bit at a time, and you don’t have to “launch” the entire system all at once for it to be valuable.
At the same time, all the methods DO link together to form an integrated system, which I call your “Second Brain.” This isn’t just a random collection of tips and tricks. I’ve carefully chosen each of the three main techniques to target a key leverage point in the flow of information through your life.
My goal is to help you get your Second Brain to a minimum level of functionality by the time the course ends. Once it is set up and working in your daily life, you’ll notice a constant stream of new insights about how to use it. The system then becomes self-improving, since you can document ways to improve your Second Brain in your Second Brain!
I’ve signed up for online courses in the past and had mixed results… how will this course be different?
This is my favorite question.
I’m an online course junkie myself. I’ve spent many thousands of dollars on various courses, webinars, ebooks, and downloads, and had a hard time benefitting from many of them.
I designed Building a Second Brain to address the pitfalls and weaknesses that I observed from existing products:
- We focus on implementing a working system, rather than just learning interesting concepts
- I show live walkthrough videos of me actually completing each step, rather than assuming you’ll be able to figure it out on your own
- The online community is a core part of the experience, not a sideshow where no one engages
- Each assignment is part of the implementation process, rather than an academic exercise
- Instead of telling you all the possible ways of organizing your notes, and leaving you to choose one on your own, I advocate for the best way, based on my experience and research
- I use real-world examples and case studies, rather than making up ideal scenarios
- I give you the option to complete the course self-paced, or as part of a live cohort, or both
- The core curriculum presents a standardized system you can copy directly, while the online forum contains numerous alternative examples
And if this approach doesn’t work for you, I offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked. The last thing I ever want to do is keep an unhappy customer’s money.
What happens in the live cohorts?
Approximately 3-4 times per year, we facilitate a “live cohort” of the course for all current and past students.
These will often be “special editions” of the course, focusing for example on writers, entrepreneurs, students, or special use cases such as public speaking, travel, organizing photos, or creating online content.
All previous students will automatically be invited to join future live cohorts, as long as they remain subscribed to the graduate email list.
Each live cohort takes place over 4 weeks, in 5 90-minute live sessions delivered via the Zoom videoconference app. During these 4 weeks, office hours are conducted weekly using the messaging app Slack. Each of these live sessions is recorded and uploaded to the Media Library shortly after it finishes, in case you can’t attend live or want to review them later. Pre-recorded lectures are assigned before each live session for watching on your own time, and the call itself is relatively flexible depending on the needs of the group.
We usually discuss students’ current challenges, have small group discussions via breakout rooms, and share relevant examples and resources. These may include presentations of supplementary material, my ongoing research and learnings, or new case studies.
How much access do I get to Tiago?
Although I can’t promise a personal reply to each and every message, I frequently check in to the online forum and Slack to answer questions, provide feedback, and share my private notes to address common pain points. I regularly publish blog posts on the Praxis blog that answer frequently asked questions as well.
During live cohorts, I will facilitate the live calls, and be available for feedback on the online discussion forum and Slack channel on a daily basis.
Your most important resource is fellow learners, and we put a lot of effort into cultivating the very best community of online learners on the planet. The online forum is hosted using an open-source platform called Discourse, which uses the latest security standards and is completely owned and operated by us. Using a discussion forum as our main communication channel encourages more thoughtful, more detailed posts that allow students to learn more from each other.
What kinds of industries or professions does this work for?
With the 25,000 or so participants in my previous online courses, and another 3,000 in live workshops and corporate trainings, I’ve seen a common theme: everyone struggles with managing the massive information flow inherent in knowledge work. I’ve designed this course to focus on methods that apply equally to anyone who thinks for a living.
I’ll be able to share numerous examples from my work coaching individuals and consulting with companies, and the other participants always have many of their own examples and discoveries to share. Yet another benefit of group learning!
Where does this material come from?
I’ll draw heavily from the fields of behavioral science, cognitive psychology, design thinking, human-centered and UX design, information science, and the theory of constraints. But the primary source is my experience consulting, training, and coaching some of the highest-performing creative professionals in the world, in multiple industries, inside organizations and out.
Does this kind of training apply to employees of large organizations?
It does. Even the most traditional employee at the most traditional company is now experiencing unprecedented levels of information overload.
According to the International Workplace Productivity Survey, a large majority of knowledge workers in every industry are feeling completely overwhelmed with the volume of information they’re expected to manage:
- An average of 62% workers in every market studied report that “the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.”
- 52% of the professionals who responded reported feeling “demoralized when they can’t manage all the information that comes their way at work.”
- “An average of half (51%) of all those surveyed in each country say that if the amount of information they receive continues to increase, they will soon reach a breaking point at which they will be unable to handle any more.”
According to the same report, they are urgently looking for solutions to this issue from the organizations they work for:
- “The most popular solutions requested by white collar workers surveyed include: investments in faster computers and more up-to-date technology, information management tools that work together, technology designed specifically for professionals in their industry, and training in information management.”
- “Overall, almost nine in ten U.S. professionals and more than 94% of workers in the other four markets say their companies could do more to help them better handle information in their job.”
For new technology to be truly effective, it must be accompanied by training. According to the best-selling book The Second Machine Age, “…for technology to make a difference,…for every dollar of investment in computer hardware, companies need to invest up to 9 dollars in software, training, and business process redesign.”
And the best kind of training includes an interactive component, such as coaching, which we offer as part of our live cohort once per quarter. According to Personnel Public Management, “…training by itself increased productivity by 22.4%; while training combined with coaching increased productivity by 88%.”
Is there a money-back guarantee?
Yes of course. We’ll happily refund your full payment within 30 days of your purchase date, no questions asked.
If there’s anything I haven’t covered here, please don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com. I know this is a considerable investment of time and money, and I want to give you everything you need to make the decision responsibly.
Don’t forget I have a pre-written proposal template to get approval from your boss or HR department for reimbursement. Many small organizations, and most large ones, provide stipends for ongoing professional development. But you have to ask!
That’s it for now. I genuinely hope to see you online in the coming months. I’m extremely excited to share with you what I believe is the absolute best productivity training in the world.
Subscribe to Praxis, our members-only blog exploring the future of productivity, for just $10/month. Or follow us for free content via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.